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Mexico: Citizen video and Drug Trafficking

Mexican bloggers debate whether citizen videos and pictures showing graphic violent crimes are an answer to what some say is the mass media's resistance to cover drug trafficking related violence or if it is just another way to spread fear and terror.


Mexico City at night by Eneas de Troya used according to Creative Commons Attribution License

For some Mexicans, media is not doing their job in reporting violent crimes, focusing on criticising the government and state instead of focusing on the violent drug trafficking and gang activity, making it seem as if they wish to cover up the gangs activities.

For Carlos Ramírez Hernández, blogging in La Palabra.com, not covering gang related crime should not be an option for media, since he says it will not decrease the actual criminal activity, but just hide it. Media's role is not to glorify crime, but to report on it, but it has to be done correctly:

Los medios, a su vez, han perdido el foco de la información. La mayor parte del contenido informativo de prensa, radio y televisión ha insistido en criticar severamente al gobierno y al Estado y no a denunciar la criminalidad del narcotráfico. Se ha llegado al punto de que algunos medios de comunicación parecen narcomantas de los capos y no representantes de la sociedad. No se trataría de elogiar por sí solo sino de convertir la información en un instrumento social de crítica a una realidad.

Media, at the same time, has lost their focus on information. The greater part of information content found in press, radio and TV has insisted in severely criticising government and state and not denouncing the criminality of drug trafficking. It has come to a point where some mass media sources seem to be billboards for the drug lords and not society's representatives. It is not about praising just because, but to transform information in a social instrument that criticizes reality.

So what role should media take? Last month 4 reporters and cameramen were kidnapped by a drug cartel. The ransom requested was for 3 narc videos to be broadcast by the TV stations. Days after the 15 minute unedited transmission denouncing the connection between authorities and opposing drug cartels was shown on TV they were released.

This isn't a new concern, back in 2007, Jorge Zepeda Patterson wrote about the role of mass media regarding the narc-videos.

Sin embargo, tampoco es sencillo para los medios de comunicación erradicar estos temas. Si bien es cierto que los noticieros de televisión se han convertido en un inventario de nota roja, no es tan fácil dejar de hacerlo. Entre otras cosas, porque es gravísimo lo que está pasando. Los periodistas haríamos un flaco favor a la comunidad si nos pusiéramos hablar de otras cosas, mientras el crimen organizado toma el control de Monterrey, el narcomenudeo se enseñorea de nuestros barrios y escuelas, y los tribunales y cuerpos policíacos terminan por ser quebrados totalmente por los carteles. Y justamente eso es lo que está sucediendo. En este momento se está librando una verdadera guerra en nuestras calles y en nuestras sierras. Una guerra que estamos perdiendo. Pero aún menos oportunidades tendremos de ganarla si ofrecemos sucedáneos a la opinión pública y construimos una operación “avestruz” distorsionada pero tranquilizante.

Nevertheless, it isn't easy for mass media to erradicate these topics. While it is true that TV news has become a grocery list of violent crimes and it isn't too easy to stop. Among other things, because what is happening is very serious. Journalists would pay a disservice to the community if we started speaking about other things while organized crime takes control of Monterrey, the drug retail struts around in our neighborhoods and schools and the court houses and police bodies continue getting broken completely by the cartels. And that is exactly what is happening. A true war is taking place as we speak in our streets and mountains. A war we are losing. But we'll have even less oportunity to win it if we offer placebos to public opinion and build an “ostrich” operation which is distorted but tranquilizing.

The drug cartels are getting net savvy, and some of them now do their own Public Relations online, finding a fertile ground on YouTube.com, as this reader sent in to the “Last of the Dodos” blog. The Dodos reviewed the YouTube channel (which has been suspended at this moment) that called itself the official channel for the Gulf Cartel, where they asked citizens to denounce members of the opposing Zeta gang if they knew one, and asked for a peaceful Mexico:

Un ejercicio de relaciones públicas perverso, que muestra la incapacidad del gobierno federal para llevar una guerra de amplio espectro que incluya el manejo de la opinión pública.

A perverse exercise of public relations, showing the innability the federal government has to face a wide spectrum war including managing public opinion.

In Información Cívica blog, David Sasaki wrote about the good, bad and ugly in Mexico's online video scene. On the subject of narco videos, where drug gangs post videos of executions, beatings, torture and confessions, he wrote making reference to Mica Rosenberg's post on the subject:

The anonymously posted videos are of little assistance to federal police as they attempt to track down the perpetrators, but they do spread a cycle of violence according to Maria Guadalupe Licea, head of the government prosecutor’s office in Baja California. “Licea said the use of new technologies and media is part of a spiraling cycle of violence in which ever more shocking attacks inspire copycat killings,” writes Rosenberg.

But the violent content is not only distributed by the gang members or supporters: citizens have also been posting graphic images and videos they take of victims of these drug trafficking ring wars. Reasons to post the gory material are varied: some like the high ratings and others insist that if mass media will not inform the public, they will, so that these activities don't go unnoticed. Some of the websites established for sharing this information include areas where people can denounce criminal activity, discuss dangerous cities, the rise in violence and how the drug cartels operate.

As citizens begin to take the role previously left to mass media, the same questions are being asked. Is it a disservice to publish the violence many cities are being subject to, or is it worse to remain silent?

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